Round 4 kicked off last night with the Sydney Roosters overcoming traditional rivals South Sydney Ra...
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The Bulldogs will head into their biggest match of the season with the future of nearly half their first grade side in limbo after chief executive Steve Mortimer on Tuesday called off contract talks until next week.
Mortimer decided to suspend negotiations with the club's nine off-contract stars, including halfback Brent Sherwin, so they could concentrate on Friday night's grudge match against the Sydney Roosters.
The Bulldogs' retention committee met Tuesday night to discuss the situation, but the club will not make any further moves until next week.
"The game is on Friday and I don't want to interrupt them," Mortimer said.
"It's a very important game for the club."
Sherwin is the Bulldogs' priority, but has left talks in the hands of his manager and is expected to be the target of several clubs if he is unable to agree to terms before June 30.
"It does (play on my mind) a little bit," Sherwin said.
"It's all about my future so hopefully we can get it cleared up but if we can't, I'll have to wait and see."
Mortimer did hold further talks with centre Nigel Vagana's manager Gavin Orr today but failed to resolve the situation.
It's also understood five-eighth Johnathan Thurston's contract will need to be upgraded after he was named in a 22-man Queensland squad for this year's State of Origin series, which starts in Brisbane on June 11.
And the uncertainty over Sherwin and Vagana is hindering efforts to shore up the future of Luke Patten, Travis Norton, Ben Harris, Steve Reardon and Dennis Scott.
All were named by coach Steve Folkes in the Bulldogs squad for the game against the Roosters at Telstra Stadium.
Willie Talau is also off contract but will miss the match with a knee injury.
"It's not as fast as we would have liked," Mortimer said of contract talks.
"I believe if it's meant to happen, it will happen, they will stay here."
The club did secure one of its teenage stars today when Premier League forward Sonny-Bill Williams agreed to stay for a further two years.
And Orr, who manages Williams, said the Bulldogs were not far off tying up Vagana, with the Kiwi centre looking for a three year contract.
"We're just waiting for them to come back to us," Orr said.
"He wants to go as far as he can with the Dogs."
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs today played down the importance of Friday night's match, which most people thought would be last year's grand final until the club was found guilty of breaching the salary cap.
The Roosters went on to win the title.
`Dogs forward Willie Mason said he couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
"It's just another game to us," Mason said.
"If we beat the Roosters it would be good for us just to get some consistency, but that's about it.
"We're just out there to win the two points. Come Friday night we're going to have to go out there and play some good footy to beat these blokes, but nobody is talking about a grand final.
"It's only round nine."